Open House Chicago’s South Shore sites offer more than just a tour
The Chicago Architecture Center’s free yearly event offers access to more than 350 buildings across the city.
The Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago this weekend celebrates the history, design and mission of buildings throughout the city.
Beside offering the chance to check out more than 300 buildings that often are closed to the public, it also provides an opportunity to explore familiar neighborhoods, like South Shore, which is home to seven sites, including four new to the tour this year.
Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., is among the new ones. It normally serves as a “hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center.”
The Arts Bank, built in 1923, was designed by architect William Gibbons Uffendell, has four fluted Roman columns, is traditional for its neo-classical style and is South Shore’s only remnant of the era.
The Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank, as it was originally known, was positioned in a thriving commercial corridor with restaurants, theaters and hotels. Then, the Great Depression hit, leading to the bank’s closing in 1931. The bank changed ownership several times before the Nation of Islam bought the building in 1973.
In 1980, the building fell into the city’s hands and sat vacant for nearly 30 years. Decades of neglect and severe water damage landed the building on the city’s demolition list.
Artist Theaster Gates bought the building for $1 from the city in 2013, and his Rebuild Foundation invested $6.5 million in renovations. Rebuild Foundation is a nonprofit focused on art, cultural development and neighborhood transformation.
The Arts Bank also is home to a 15,000-item collection of books, periodicals and art donated by Johnson Publishing Co., which published Ebony and Jet magazines.
It also has the record collection of the late Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of Chicago house music.
“There is something happening every day that we are open for the weekend,” said Julie Yost, director of programming for Rebuild Foundation. “We will be doing staff-guided tours about the history of the building, the restoration process and what we offer today.”
A visit to the Arts Bank during Open House Chicago will include a screening of “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Don’t Shout too Soon” and “Black Samurai: South Side Warriors” and the Tamir Rice gazebo memorial on the north lawn, reconstructed earlier this year to honor the 12-year-old shot to death by a Cleveland police officer while playing with a pellet gun in 2014.
Also new to Open House Chicago is Bryn Mawr Community Church, 7000 S. Jeffery Blvd., which remains in use by a congregation; Park Heights by the Lake, 2231 E. 67th St., a neo-gothic condominium; and the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.
Yost hopes people make South Shore a day trip to visit every open house in the neighborhood but also recommends spending time inside of other businesses like Heritage Cafe, 1944 E. 79th St.
“I would encourage people to really get to know South Shore and other South Side neighborhoods,” Yost said. “I hope people come to the Arts Bank and don’t hurry up and leave but instead take it all in.”
Returning this year:
- St. Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church, 2132 E. 72nd St.
- WGN Flag & Decorating Co., 7984 S. South Chicago Ave.
- Windsor Beach Apartments, 7321 S. South Shore Dr.
Visit Open House Chicago’s website for its complete list.
Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.